From time-to-time on this here little slice of Inter-nets, I've casually mentioned my father -- Pops Cardillo -- a man who's watched more MLS than 99.9 percent of the world's total population.
If it weren't for my dad there's no way this blog exists in its current form.
My father's been a soccer-lifer, first serving as a ball boy when my grandfather managed the Stamford Italians in an old ethically-driven Connecticut soccer league back in early 1960s. Eventually right around 1986 he began coaching our elementary school town youth team.
During Italia 1990 my father brought the team over to watch a grainy VHS copy of, I think, the final between West Germany and Argentina -- not exactly the most fondly recalled match of all time. But hey, back then it wasn't like we had Fox Soccer Channell, GolTV or even ESPN showing highlights on "Sportscenter."
Eventually in the build up to the 1994 World Cup my father and I started watching whatever U.S. games were on -- many times on Univision. Until the start of MLS in 1996 the U.S. international matches were about the only thing American television programmers deemed fit to grace their airwaves. Remember Ty Keough and Seamus Malin -- who never said one positive thing about the USMNT?
So when the U.S. was poised to play the most important World Cup game since the 2002 quarterfinal Wednesday morning against Algeria, the choice was fairly obvious. Instead of going to a bar or someplace else, I'd have to the action from Pretoria alongside my Pops in the comfort of my condo's living room.
As the game unfolded, not sure what was more entertaining? The match itself or my father's reactions?
My dad is usually fairly mild-mannered. He keeps his emotions fairly in check, or at least bottled up for the most part. Reserved might be the best way to describe him.
For the 90 minutes of tension, he was pounding his fists into the arms of my recliner. Jumping up and screaming. Sitting on the floor. Pacing. Near tears in his eyes for much of the second half.
You know, the kind of emotions a baseball fan experiences during a tense playoff game. How college basketball fans feel in the closing seconds of an NCAA tournament game. The kind of games in any sport that sour the stomach sour and the knees into jelly.
Those 90 minutes, especially the final 45 alternately felt like an eternity and a blink of an eye.
And judging by the reaction from sea to shining sea, my father wasn't the only one in America who experienced the agony and the ecstasy unfurling in Pretoria Wednesday morning. That, friends, is the World Cup in a nutshell. It might not be the world's greatest or most exciting soccer, but every 90 minutes here on out produce the kind of drama and excitement that make watching sports a quasi-religious experience.
It's not so much about missed chances, 4-4-2s, counter attacks and what have you.
It's about jumping three feet off the ground. It's about screaming with the unabashed joy of a five-year-old. It's about hugging a complete stranger with the embrace of your soul mate.
That's the World Cup.
Do you think whenever they show those mass video screens set up in the streets of Europe that everyone watching is a die-hard soccer fan? Of course not. They're there for the rare chance to experience a collective group joy with your countrymen.
Think about it. How much time in 2010 do we spend isolated, alone behind computer screens or tapping away the most meaningless thoughts into our cell phones for the entire world to read (or ignore). For one month every four years the World Cup gives everyone on the planet or in a nation a common ground, a common interest.
These might seem like hoary old cliches, but they're the truth, too.
In the haste of the American's last gasp, heart pounding 1-0 victory, my mind was too busy to write a full post.
The only thing that sprung to mind was that June 23, 2010 might finally have been the day Americans learned why the rest of the world love and embraces soccer. A fact that seemed to be confirmed by the seemingly endless strings of celebration videos quickly uploaded, which summarize the feeling far better than my kindergarten-level sentences could.
In the big picture, is Donovan's goal going to push soccer to become the No. 1 sport in America? Is it going to fill MLS stadiums across the nation?
What it did, though, was establish the World Cup as a sport the casual American sports fan could embrace and enjoy without the fear of mockery, you know, the whole "soccer is boring" joke.
Think about it. ESPN pumped so much money into hyping up the tournament that people have indeed been watching. (Wednesday's match was the highest a.m. rating ESPN ever posted.)
If the U.S. had gone out after failing to defeat Algeria after a pair of perfectly good goals were waved off by the refs in back-to-back matches? The skeptics and old guard soccer haters would have had a field day. They wouldn't be too far off base either. Why care or pay attention to a sport that can't officiate itself properly?
Think those would-be fans would be back again in four years? That's a long time to reinforce the idea that "soccer sucks."
Flash forward to 2014 and the same old doubts about the U.S. team would once again creep into the conversation. This team is no good. They can't beat the best. They're boring. Etc.
Now, with Donovan's moment of 91st minute magic the American general soccer audience have their bellwether moment. A moment to look back on and get goosebumps whenever the World Cup highlight packages show Donovan's cool, calm finish, slide across the pitch and subsequent American pig pile.
Better yet, one of those moments you'll always remember where you were when it happened. The pure, unbridled joy.
You could argue that beating Portugal 3-2 in the 2002 World Cup opener or topping Mexico 2-0 in the 2002 knockout round were bigger, more important games. The win last summer against Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinals went further in proving that the Yanks could hang with the world's best.
Those matches indeed will forever hold warm spots in the memories of the pure, hardcore American soccerhead. There's no denying that beating Spain -- snapping their massive 30+ game unbeaten streak in the process -- was a better achievement that needing a stoppage time goal to handle Algeria 1-0 in the World Cup group stage.
For years the casual American fan didn't have anything positive to remember the U.S. National Team by, just disappointment and unrealized hype. The casual fan wasn't up in the middle of the night or wee hours of the morning to watch the magic of a young Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, John O'Brien and Clint Mathis in 2002. They weren't there for the Confederations Cup, a tournament that pales in significance to the World Cup.
The U.S. finally had its collective World Cup tipping point moment Wednesday. When I went out for coffee Thursday morning Donovan's smiling mug was on the front page -- A1 -- over every newspaper on the rack.
Not even the crankiest of cranky old media type could deny the World Cup doesn't mean anything to Americans after June 23, 2010.
* One more thought from my Dad. We used to watch a ton of UConn basketball games together. Until 1999 the Huskies were always bounced from the NCAA tournament before the Final Four. We'd always be disappointed and left feeling empty. My father's usual refrain was, "Well, I just wish we had one more game to look forward to."
When you boil it down, the U.S. win vs. Algeria gives American fans one more game to forward to, Saturday afternoon vs. Ghana in what is sure to be the most-watched soccer game ever in the States. Even casual eyeballs are going to be locked in around 2:30. You don't need to know much about soccer either, all people are going to see is an American team in a knockout game of a tournament.
* In retrospect, I guess I can see why Algeria penned in so deep and played for the counterattack. The only way they were going to score was if the U.S. pulled too forward and got stretched out.
* Once again, we watched the U.S. soccer mentality DNA building blocks continue to forms chains right before our eyes. The U.S. may never win easy or have the most technically gifted players.
There is something to be said about the eight or nine goals they've scored after the 80th minute in this World Cup cycle. Many teams around the globe simply give up. They just expect to lose at that point.
The never say die attitude on the soccer field? Quintessentially American.
* Lost in the shuffle, late in the match Algeria had broken down with numbers on the U.S. goal in the final ten minutes. Carlos Bocanegra made a full-extension lunge to tip it out for a corner.
* On the term of unlikely developments, where does Bill Clinton becoming a soccer fan rank? Somewhere next to Betty White becoming the go-to comedy star of 2010?
* How great was Ian Darke all game? Soothing, calm, knowledgeable. And the moment of the Donovan goal? "Go Go USA"? Perfect. I think Martin Tyler would have undersold it, while JP would have talked over it. Darke is a revelation.
* One thing, if people still don't care about soccer or the World Cup after Donovan's goal. That's quite all right. Got to. This is America, man.
All I've ever really wanted from a soccer in American standpoint is the media to cover it with respect and accurately. There are obviously fans out there, the days of getting an easy punchline on soccer should be over.
* More on U.S. v. Ghana from a tactical, soccer fan standpoint on Friday. In fairness, the Xs and Os of Wednesday's day got blurred by the crazy ending. Maybe a touch of hyperbole, but there's no denying that was a yuge moment. Biggest development is how much these guys have left for Saturday, emotionally and physically.
* One final thought, a team like Ghana scares me to death.